Bernhard Langer overcame a shaky front nine Friday with an eagle and birdie on the inward half to take the lead at 3 under in the second round of the U.S. Senior Open as many of the other contenders simply tried to stay close entering the weekend.
After a fog delay of more than two hours brought play to a halt just before 8 a.m., Langer shot a 2-under 68 making a number of key putts on the back nine when his round easily could have slipped away.
"You never quite know. It's the type of golf course that any hole can get to you," said Langer, coming off a victory last week in the Senior British Open at Carnoustie. "You just got to be careful and hit good shots."
Langer was careful, not to mention a little fortunate with the putter Friday. He's the only player with two rounds in the 60s on the par-70 layout at Sahalee Country Club, and will take a two-shot lead into the third round.
If successful this week, Langer would be the first player on the Champions Tour to win consecutive majors since Tom Watson in 2003 in the Senior British Open and Tradition.
But Watson didn't win those titles in back-to-back weeks with eight time zones in between.
"This is a big enough event to pick yourself up and get motivated and get moving," Langer said. "I don't have a lot of problems with that."
While Langer managed to tame the ball-hawking tree limbs of Sahalee, others were far less successful. Only four players finished the second round under par, with another four sitting at even. First-round leader Bruce Vaughan, who shot a 66 in the first round, fell out of contention after shot a dismal 82.
Little-known J.R. Roth had a 66, the best round of the day. He curled in a 25-foot bender on the 18th to finish at 1 under for the tournament. John Cook (68) and Tommy Armour III (68) also were 1 under.
"I think the way USGA sets up the golf course it really is good for me, because I'm just one of those guys that grinds it out," said Roth, playing in his first USGA event in 35 years.
Hometown favorite Fred Couples and Watson led the group at even par. Constantly trying to stretch out his always stiff back, Couples sent a wave of roars echoing between the cedars and firs of Sahalee when he dropped in a tricky 35-foot bender on the par-3 ninth that got Couples back to 1 under. A pair of bogeys early in his back nine pushed Couples to 1 over, but a birdie at No. 16 and pars on the last two holes left Couples right where he started.
"I didn't realize last year that they shot so many under, wherever they played," Couples said about Fred Funk's winning score of 20 under last year at Crooked Stick. "But I think that kind of killed us here because there may not be anyone under par when the tournament is over; it's that hard."
After a bogey at No. 1 and birdie at No. 2, Watson made 14 straight pars before a bogey at the 17th when his tee shot imbedded in the bank near the water hazard in front of the green. Watson took a drop, but chunked his chip and made bogey.
He rebounded with a birdie on the uphill par-4 18th, the second-toughest hole on the course.
Scott Simpson and Tom Kite were 1 over, four shots back.
They're all chasing Langer.
He was 1 over on the front nine after missing a short par putt on the ninth, then jump-started his round with an eagle on the long par 5 11th hole, sinking a 40-foot putt for the first eagle on the hole this week. Langer made long par saving putts on Nos. 12 and 15, then birdied the par-3 17th, knocking a 6 iron to six feet. Langer delicately two-putted on the 18th to finish his round.
"I hit it straight and made some putts. It's always the same, isn't it?" Langer said. "Just different venues, different conditions, but it's always same idea, hit it where you're looking and try and play smart."
While scores were generally closer to par than Thursday's first round when just eight players broke par, low scores were still tough to find.
Larry Mize was 3 under on his round with two holes to play before a double bogey on his 17th hole. Roberts seemed poised to join Langer at 3 under before a double bogey at the 15th. Cook also made a pair of bogeys on his final three holes.
"Here there's no mystery, you just have to put the ball in the fairway and then you have to hit quality iron shots with the right trajectory and distance," Cook said. "Otherwise, you might as well just pack up and go, because it will eat you alive."